Why Do People Conform?

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The causes of conformity among individuals have long been debated and researched in recent decades. It is for this reason that conformity is an intriguing psychological concept. It causes sound-minded individuals to go against their best judgement, to engage in behaviour which they usually would not engage in, even accept and welcome an idea they internally disagree with, all in order to not be a deviant from the group. It is thus interesting to look at the factors which cause people to conform, to do what they see others doing, to rely on the judgements of the group, and to ignore their own senses and perceptions. It is the reasons for the individual's desire to conform that I will be discussing in this paper.

In 1936 some of the first studies were carried out on this concept of conformity by Muzafer Sherif. In these studies Sherif made use of a phenomenon known as the auto-kinetic effect, whereby a point of light in an otherwise totally dark room will appear to move randomly. In the first experimental condition, subjects were invited to estimate the amount of ‘movement' they observed. When the subjects were asked individually a huge range of answers were given. Sherif recorded each subject's response. In the second experimental condition, Sherif gathered the subjects into groups, usually of three, and asked them to describe verbally the movement of the light. No instruction was given that they had to reach some kind of agreement, the subjects were simply aware of the other's results whilst calling out theirs. During the group sessions it became apparent that the subjects' reports started to converge much nearer an average. The results of this groundbreaking study were, and still are, remarkable. But it was not without its flaws. A harsh critic of Sherif's experiment was Solomon Asch, who argued that it showed little about conformity since there was no right answer to conform to. In 1955 Asch designed an experiment that...